BusinessDay

2022: Time to search for capable presidential candidates

The next Nigerian president must be someone who understands all elements that shape our country – internally and externally. Someone who can make choices that will enable us to achieve our goals and objectives. He or she must also be someone who has a good understanding of our history (what happened and why?), power relations or political science (what underlying patterns and causal mechanisms are at work?), public policy (how well did policies or programs work and how could it be done better?), and economics (how are national resources produced and protected?).

Nigeria needs capable leaders to lead the country. Leaders that can at all times come up with a collection of plans and policies, that comprise the country’s deliberate effort to harness political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools together to advance our national interest. We need leaders who think and act like grand strategists. That is, leaders that have mastered the art of reconciling ends and means. In essence, we need leaders with purposive action — what leaders think and want.

In essence, we need a president that can develop a comprehensive, agreed, or actionable worldview that will allow Nigerians to understand and share a consensus at the leadership level of how our economy will compete, shape itself and transform in the future.

If you haven’t performed as a manager, you rarely make it into consideration for an executive role. Shouldn’t we hold political candidates to the same standard?

If you want to drive a car, fly a plane, practice law, or perform surgery, you have to take a test and get a license. Unfortunately, if anyone wants to lead Nigeria today, there’s no proof of proficiency required.

When we select leaders outside politics, we don’t even consider their ideologies until after they’ve established their competencies. If you haven’t performed as a manager, you rarely make it into consideration for an executive role. Shouldn’t we hold political candidates to the same standard?

I’m generally dismayed by politics, but if someone forced me to start a political party, it would be the Capability Party. The core ideology would be anti-ideology. Before you can run for office, you’d have to demonstrate your capacity to lead and serve.

An election is a forecasting task: you’re trying to predict how well a candidate will rise to the challenges of an office. Psychologists have long found that instead of having candidates do interviews and debates, we can learn more about their competencies by getting samples of their work.

Some of the key skills involved in public service might include critical thinking, diplomacy, strategy, verbal fluency, and economic policy. It wouldn’t be hard to design war games, forecasting tournaments, and other simulations to test knowledge and skill in these areas.

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A friend of mine thinks we could try something simpler and more fun now that we are approaching our general election season. So, what if we challenged our presidential aspirants and candidates to play board games?

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about friends and family by watching how they play board games. I wonder if the same is true for political candidates?

What if we have them play Clue to test their critical thinking and Risk to gauge their diplomacy. We could try chess or Settlers of Catan for strategy and Scrabble, Boggle, or Taboo to get a sense of verbal fluency. We could pick Monopoly for economic policy and anger management. If you throw the board, you’re automatically disqualified.

If they don’t have a working understanding of key events of the past and how Nigeria works in the present, we can’t rely on them to guide us into the future. To get a sense of their knowledge of civics and history, I’d go with Trivial Pursuit or even Jeopardy.

We wouldn’t have to stop there. We might get a glimpse at cognitive deficits by asking them to play Memory. If they can’t remember where the cards are, they’re off the table.

Of course, dominating these games wouldn’t prove that an aspirant or candidate is ready to lead. But struggling at them might make it clear that they’re unfit to serve. The goal of a board game tournament wouldn’t be to greenlight the winners – it would be to surface red flags. We would be looking to screen aspirants or candidates out, not invite them in.

Now that I think of it, the Capability Party might be the wrong name. If recent history is any guide, that bar might be unrealistically high. We could call it the Anti-Capability Party.

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